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How end-user guilt inspires IBM to improve your email experience

Bob Brown | Feb. 3, 2016
Design thinking is infusing enterprise social software development and more at IBM these days.

Carolyn Pampino, design executive for IBM’s Enterprise Social Solutions, describes herself as the kind of person who “gets a ton of email and can’t get to all of it in a single day,” all of which leaves her feeling guilty that she probably missed a key message either from her boss or someone on her team. But even she might not feel as guilty as the so-called Zero Inboxer, who can’t stop working until every last email is dealt with.

IBM has people who fall into either camp in mind as it designs its collaboration and other products, Pampino said this week during an interview at the IBM Connect conference in Orlando. “This is kind of the root of the problem we need to solve,” she says.

IBM is addressing this challenge in large part through the efforts of designers like Pampino, not just through engineering and development efforts, though all are intertwined. IBM has employed “design thinking” to focus on how people use and embrace its software, and this entails everything from user research to interaction design (think clicking through software) to visual and front-end designers.

While IBM is far from alone among tech companies to embrace design thinking -- Microsoft and SAP are among others -- Big Blue is definitely pushing it these days. Its IBM Connect conference agenda is dotted with design thinking sessions, includng those focused on app development, virtual personal assistants and enterprise collaboration.

MORE: Best iPhone 7 design concepts of 2016 so far

“This is part of a massive transformation that IBM is taking on with a very maniacal focus on design,” says Pampino, citing Ginni Rometty’s decision to invest $100 million into design shortly after becoming IBM chairman and CEO in 2012. “It’s an innovation and ideas market right now… A lot of people are viewing design as a primary competitive advantage now through the usefulness and visceral beauty of the products you bring to market.”

These efforts can be seen in the design of IBM products such as Verse, the newfangled messaging/calendaring program rolled out last year. A problem IBM tried to solve there was not just reading all one's messages, but surfacing the really important ones. "Filtering the relationship around people became a really important piece of that," Pampino says. So too is helping end users figure out if something important is trending today within their network that they need to focus on, she says.

Design thinking also plays a role in making the smarts of IBM’s Watson cognitive computing accessible through IBM collaboration products, says Pampino, who previously worked in IBM's Rational app development business.

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IBM IBM Verse: A product of design thinking


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